The hawkfish get their name from their habit of perching on coral prominences, from which they swoop out and snag their prey. Many of the hawkfish can be aggressive or highly predatory — that is, they can be unsociable toward their aquarium tankmates. Fortunately, there are a handful of species that are more congenial. Dwarf hawkfish (aka Falco’s hawkfish) (Cirrhitichthys falco) is one of these. The dwarf hawkfish is a lovely, personable little fish that should be considered by the neophyte and experienced aquarist alike.
Difficulty: The dwarf hawkfish is a wonderful fish because of its durability and good looks. Dwarf hawkfish will eat almost any aquarium food presented to it and can withstand suboptimal water conditions without long-term effects. Feed the dwarf hawkfish once a day in an aquarium that lacks live substrate and once every two days in a reef aquarium or FOWLR (fish only with live rock) system.
Physical description: Like all of the hawkfish species, Cirrhitichthys falco has cirri (hairlike projections) around the nostrils and on the dorsal fin. There are two distinct color forms — one has red spots and markings, and one with brownish markings. This species reaches a maximum length of around 3 inches. Do not mistake this for the coral or pixy hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys oxycephalus), which is must more aggressive than Cirrhitichthys falco. The coral hawkfish has spots under the eye, while Cirrhitichthys falco has one line under the eye and another one just behind it. The latter species also have bars on the body that consist of spots and blotches, while the coral hawkfish is simply covered with large spots.
Range: The dwarf hawkfish is found from the Maldives east to Samoa. The dwarf hawkfish is found at depths of 13 to 150 feet on coral-rich patch reefs and reef faces. Rather than perching on top of coral heads, they are more often found at the base of coral colonies or patch reefs.
Compatibility: Cirrhitichthys falco is one of the least aggressive and less predatory members of the family. As a result, the dwarf hawkfish will fit into a wider range of community aquariums. In smaller aquariums it may pick on cardinalfish, gobies and dartfish, but in a larger aquarium, it rarely bothers these species. The dwarf hawkfish may feed on nano-gobies and has also been known to attack crustaceans (especially more diminutive shrimp) during or just after molting. Dwarf hawkfish is not immune to being picked on. They are subject to being chased and nipped at by dottybacks, other hawkfish, damselfish and larger sand perches. The dwarf hawkfish may also be targeted by piscivores, such as lizardfish, frogfish, scorpionfish, groupers and snappers.
Aquarium conditions: Dwarf hawkfish will appreciate an aquarium with plenty of hiding places, which might consist of live stony and soft coral colonies, faux corals, faux or live sponges and live rock. The dwarf hawkfish is a fairly showy fish that will pounce from perch to perch, in full view, as it watches for food. The dwarf hawkfish will quickly learn to beg at the water’s surface and will even take food from the hobbyist’s fingers. Acceptable water parameters for the dwarf hawkfish are: pH of 8.1 to 8.4, specific gravity of 1.019 to 1.025 and a water temperature of 74 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
Care considerations: Cirrhitichthys falco has very few if any special care requirements. The dwarf hawkfish may jump from an uncovered aquarium, although such incidences are rare. Make sure you add your dwarf hawkfish to the aquarium before potential protagonists.
Breeding: The dwarf hawkfish has not been known to breed in the home aquarium. The dwarf hawkfish is a protogynous hermaphrodite (males result from female sex change) that tend to occur in harems in the wild. The territory of a male dwarf hawkfish may contain one to up to seven females. While the colors of the sexes do not differ, females tend to be smaller than males.